Indian Yoga - Terminology

The original yoga texts were translated from Sanskrit into Hindi, but much of the terminology has been preserved in Sanskrit. Some terms can easily be translated such as postures representing animals. Others are concepts that cannot be explained and can only be felt.

Asanas: Postures that keep the body healthy and strong and in harmony with nature. They also lead to better concentration and meditation.

Ashram: spiritual community or retreat initiated by gurus with a small group of followers and often ran after their death in their honor by their disciples.

Bhandas: Part of the Pranayama (Breathing techniques). The three bhandas are jalandra bandha (the chin locks on the chest preventing breathing. It is an important breathing control technique), Uddiyana Bhanda (a breathing technique where the yogi expels all the air from his stomach until the internal organs touch the backbone) and the mula bandha which is water absorption through anal contraction and prompted by a breathing practice including a stomach suction.

All Bhandas are good to hold one's breath for a long period of time and to release the kundalini.

Chakras: A wheel of energy. The energy (prana) is said to flow in the body through three main channels called nadis. The three nadis are Susumna situated inside the spinal column, Pingala and Ida. Pingala and Ida start respectively from the right and left nostrils, move up to the crown of the head and course downwards to the base of the spine. These two nadis intersect with each other and also the Susumna. These junctions of the nadis are known as chakras.

Chakras also called fly-wheels are the junctions of the nadis and regulate the body mechanism. The 6 important chakras are Muladhara (situated in the pelvis above the anus), Svadhisthana (situated above the organs of generation, Manipuraka (situated in the navel), Manas (mind) and Surya (the sun) which are situated in the region between the navel and the heart, Anahata (situated i the cardiac area), Visuddha (situated in the pharyngeal region, Ajna (situated between the eyebrows, Sahasrara in the cerebral cavity, and Lalata which is at the top of the forehead.

Guru: A Spiritual guide that can be a master yogi, priest or Sadhu. Gurus have reached a high spiritual level and they teach one or a few dedicated students. (Warning: Like Sadhus, although some are highly spiritual people, others are just actors making a living at the expense of credulous followers.)

Kundalini: What all yogi great masters tell their students is that 100 books could not explain the Kundalini. It is a feeling that can only be experienced after much practice and meditation. It is symbolized by a coiled and sleeping snake in the lowest bodily center at the base of the spinal column. It is believed to correspond to some coiled veins located between the pubic and anal area could contain most of the body energy and power. It is also described as the Divine Cosmic Energy in the body. This latent energy has to be awakened and made to go up the spine to the brain  through Sunmna Nadi, a channel through which nervous energy passes, and through the six chakras, subtle centers of the body. Some special postures (pachimatan asana), Breathing techniques (ardh pranayama), mantras and meditation techniques can help in releasing this energy which will flow through the spine straight up to the top of the head. This liberation of energy also called the awakening of the kundalini, is one of the end goal of yogi masters.

Mantras: A sacred word or prayer to be repeated numerous times. The most powerful mantras are a combination of sounds that send vibrations coming from one's body. They are filled with energy and can be very powerful for concentration and mind control. They are also used as prayers by themselves as prayers. (also see Tantras and Yantras)

Pranayama: The yogi's life is not measured by the number of his days but by the number of his breath, therefore controlling one's breath if of vital importance. Pranayama is the breathing science where the yogi follows the proper rhythmic patterns of slow deep breathing. It strengthen the respiratory system, soothes the nervous system and reduces craving. As desires and cravings diminish, the mind is set free and becomes a fit vehicle for concentration. Pranayama must be learned slowly and with a good master, as improper practice can lead to several disorders such as asthma, cough, wind, hiccough, headache, or eyes, ears and nervous irritations.

Pratyahara: withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior objects.

Tantras: Two kinds of prayers combined with donations to the gods. One type of tantras is practiced by vegetarian people who offering  flowers, fruits, sweets, rice, incense, candles, the other one by non-vegetarians. These are allowed to consume (eggs, meat, fish, alcohol, girls). (also see Mantras and Yantras

Samadhi: A state of super-consciousness brought about by profound meditation, in which the individual aspirant (sadhaka) becomes one with the object of his meditation-Paramatma or the Universal Spirit. 

Sadhu: A religious person in search of spiritual awakening. Sadhus wow to surrender all possessions, and social responsibilities including family. Some also study the sacred Sanskrit text. A few are legitimate and highly spiritual people, but today many beggars have adopted the Sadhu look (long hair, beard, simple white, orange or saffron robe, and Shiva's marks on their forehead) to sell their prayers. For centuries criminals have also been known to hide as Sadhus, and many innocent travelers have fallen victims of these fakes. To know more about the Sadhus read: The way of the Sadhu.

Yama and Niyama: They control the yogi's passions and emotions and keep him in harmony with his fellow man.

Yamas are universal commandments or ethical disciplines. The 5 mentioned by Pantajali are: non-violence, truth, non-stealing, continence, and non-coveting.

Niyama is the self purification by discipline (second stage of yoga mentioned by Patanjali.

Yantras: A type of numerology linked to the astrology. A picture is drawn with all the numbers then posted on a wall to protect a house. Each Indian god has a yantra. Yantras are also found in Islam. (also see Mantras and Tantras)

Yoga: There are two recognized types of yoga. Hastanga Yoga is the oldest one various Sanskrit book, do not agree on the exact date of its creation, but it is attributed to the great master Patanjali who produced the first book "Yoga Sutra" around 200BC. It is composed of 8 parts. The second type is called Hata Yoga and was created by Mohayogi guru Gorachonal. It is composed of 6 parts.

Hastanga Yoga

  1. Yama (universal moral commandments)

  2. Niyama (self purification by discipline)

  3. Asanas (Postures)

  4. Pranayama (rythmic control of the breath)

  5. Pratyahara (diet and control of the senses)

  6. Dharana (Concentration)

  7. Dhyana (Meditation)

  8. Samadhi (illumination)

Hata Yoga

  1. Kriya (Internal Body Cleaning)

  2. Asanas (Postures)

  3. Pranayama (rythmic control of the breath)

  4. Pratyahara (diet and control of the senses)

  5. Dhyana (Meditation)

  6. Samadhi (illumination)

Yogi: Yogis are all people practicing yoga, but recognized yogis are the masters of all practices (asana postures, breathing techniques, mind control, and meditation).


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